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Wednesday, June 12th, 2013 at 10:40 am  |  60 responses

Gregg Popovich Says International Players are Less Selfish and More Coachable


There’s a reason that this season, the San Antonio Spurs employed an NBA record 9 players who learned to play the game outside of the USA. Head coach Gregg Popovich finds them to be less of a headache than their American counterparts. Pop argues that foreign players work harder, are easier to coach, and don’t need the limelight as much. Per ESPN: “In the late ’80s, as an assistant coach with the Spurs, Pop traveled to see the European championships in Cologne. The only other NBA coach there was Don Nelson. Pop knew the stigmas against foreign players: They wouldn’t play defense, they wouldn’t socialize, they wouldn’t learn English, they weren’t strong dribblers, they couldn’t handle a reduced role, they were soft. ‘I thought that was really ignorant,’ Pop says now. ‘I couldn’t believe that it was a pool that wasn’t being used.’ Decades later, with Pop’s mentality and some luck, the core of the Spurs — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, international players all — have helped produce the most consistent winner in the four major sports over the past 15 years, victorious 70.3 percent of the time during that stretch. [...] Consider Pop’s brutal assessment that foreign players are ‘fundamentally harder working than most American kids,’ and it’s no wonder the Spurs want to avoid the fate of so many NBA teams, which are, as Spurs GM R.C. Buford says, ‘the end of the road for the developmental habits that are built in the less-structured environment in the U.S.’ [...] Of course, Pop’s coaching style, as prescient as it is curmudgeonly, isn’t for everyone. He’s demanding and ruthless; his playbook is pick-and-roll heavy, more structured and complicated than European ball but a blood relative. The traits he scouts for — players with ‘character,’ who’ve ‘gotten over themselves, who understand team play, who can cheer for a teammate,’ who ‘don’t make excuses’ — hold true regardless of nationality. The NBA draft, more than the draft in any other sport, is based on potential. With only two rounds, GMs can’t miss, and when Pop looks at American talent he sees many players who ‘have been coddled since eighth, ninth, 10th grade by various factions or groups of people. But the foreign kids don’t live with that. So they don’t feel entitled,’ he says, noting how many clubs work on fundamentals in two-a-day practices, each lasting up to three hours. ‘Now, you can’t paint it with too wide of a brush, but in general, that’s a fact.’ And so it’s no surprise that Pop would rather teach unentitled foreign players to be selfless than try to teach entitled domestic players to suppress their egos. The international kids, he says, ‘have less. They appreciate things more. And they’re very coachable.’”

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  • danpowers

    …water is wet…

  • The Mauve Avenger

    He means not black players. I’m not offended because it’s true haha

  • OfftheWall87

    Dumb comment of the day.

  • OfftheWall87

    Not sure it has to do with country but more with how kids are brought up regardless of where they’re born and raised. Look at the top 10 players now….you’ll have a hard time finding one who’s not coachable. LeBron, Durant, CP3, Kobe, etc. Not one player who’s had an issue with a coach besides Kobe who had a problem with Phil early on and actually grew up mostly in Italy. LeBron had no issue with freakin Mike Brown. Pop has worked with the Olympic team before and didn’t say a word about any of those players being uncoachable.

  • Dfrance

    Can’t really compare the two if you ask me.

  • Dfrance

    Agreed. LeBron could easily have been the biggest d-bag basketball has even seen, having been given the crown since he was a teen. But he’s not.

  • OfftheWall87

    Exactly.

  • jules

    I think Pop’s true.

    When you watch at americans players in Europe (i’m from France) you ‘ll mostly find players looking for their own stats, money and really don’t care you the win of their. In France we call them mercenaries.

    But the fact is that, on the fundamentals, handle and physics stuffs americans are often better than europeans (cause of the highschool and college practice)

  • Max

    Exactly, same in Belgium with most American players.

  • Ray

    No disrespect, but I think you totally missed his point. He isn’t talking about the so-called top 10-15 players in the NBA. He is talking about the 20-200 ranked players in the NBA. It all goes back to AAU primarily. Anyone who has been around the game for 20+ years will tell you exactly that. Look up all the dudes who are 1-and-done over the last 5 or so years who haven’t done jack sh*t or remotely lived up to their potential. Yet they have been babied and promised everything since they were 14 or 15.

  • LP @ThisisEther

    That’s a small sample size of players (10)…of course the top ten are coachable, that’s part of the reason they are top ten.. What about the next 90 players?

  • Ugh

    I think calling Tim Duncan an international player is a bit of stretch.

  • The Mauve Avenger

    As a black player who has played with and against several other black players in my life, I’m entitled to my opinion, good sir.

  • OfftheWall87

    As a black player who has played with and against several other black players in my life, I’m smart enough to know that you can’t create an opinion on a whole group of players just because you’ve played with and against some. Any time you generalize an entire group of folks based on a small sample, you make yourself sound foolish.

  • OfftheWall87

    If that’s what he meant, he should have elaborated and been specific making the comments you just made. Like the comment about European players having less and appreciating things more. I can name a few star players who grew up without much and have grown into superstars and took coaching well. He said you can’t paint it with too wide of a brush but then makes a generalization. He would’ve been better off talking specifically about the 20-200 players you talk about.

  • bike

    The top 10 players can get the coach fired if they don’t see eye to eye with him (like CP3 and Vinny). Pop might be the only coach in the nba who might be able to stand up to a franchise player and not get fired.

  • The Mauve Avenger

    Woah, just take it easy man.

  • OfftheWall87

    Not seeing eye to eye with the coach and getting him fired are two separate things. Del Negro got fired, not because Chris demanded it, but because the organization thought it would be in their best interest to make a change and try to keep Chris around. So Chris didn’t get him fired.

  • OfftheWall87

    He should have been more specific with his comments.

  • Roy Blumenfeld

    The difference between Pop and Vinny Del Negro is that Pop is one of the greatest coaches in NBA history and Vinny should probably be an assistant for the rest of his career. Same with the way Lebron and Kobe were both at odds with Mike Brown and Dwight/Pau Gasol have issues with D’Antoni. The only time I can think of a great coach being fired because a top player didn’t like him is the Jerry Sloan/Deron Williams affair. I blame Utah’s management for that.

  • bike

    True, and how many great coaches are there now in the nba?

  • bike

    He did indirectly. Del Negro should have been booted some time ago. And if Chris had demanded it, what do you think the LAC would have done?

  • Roy Blumenfeld

    Not many. Which is why having Pop around is even more impressive.

  • LeroyShonuff

    I think the biggest truth Pop said is the 2 a days practicing. The players are condition to work on their skills in a team environment while American players are not. Bad apples are universal but the system that is in place overseas rewards hardwork and weeds out lazy players. That is more of an indictment to the American farm system than to the actual players. The real blames lies on the adults who run the system.

  • Redd

    False, my Bulls have Mirotic and he hasn’t come over yet because he wants more money so no not true.

  • OfftheWall87

    Indirectly means he had nothing to do with it since he didn’t call for his firing or indicate that he would prefer for him to be fired. What ifs don’t matter. What matters is that he didn’t demand it. The decisions an organization makes based on what they think a player wants is on them, not the player they make the decision for.

  • spit hot fiyah

    i think more than half their roster is born outside of the US

  • thecoldhardtruth

    Non-Black Players are Less Selfish and More Coachable in comparison to their black counterparts

  • OfftheWall87

    Nevermind. This is the dumbest comment of the day.

  • bike

    No one knows for sure. According to some reports (CBS Ken Berger for one) Paul’s lack of confidence in Del Negro was the biggest reason they let him go.

    My point is, franchise players are certainly coachable but they also can influence team and front office decisions. A clash between the two usually doesn’t bode well for the coach. Think Dwight and Van Gundy.

  • OfftheWall87

    It’s for sure that Paul didn’t ask for Del Negro to be fired or say he wouldn’t sign with them if he was still the coach. That’s why he was/is angry that the Clippers made it seem as if they let VDN go because of him. Dwight is different because he actually asked for SVG to be fired. We all saw that play out thanks to Stan.

  • The Mauve Avenger

    Nothing in live is an absolute truth, but if a serious study was done it might verify your hypothesis. People are too sensitive these days. It’s basketball. no one is questioning the character of the people. Calm down.

  • shutup

    Get over yourself…..

  • Junior Taylor

    I am calling a big a** bullsh*t on that one. Unless you produce some kind of study to back up such a foolish claim, you will be branded the “donkey of the day”.

  • Junior Taylor

    I guess Pop has never heard of cats like Rudy Fernandez, a notorious whiner that ran back home because he wasn’t getting enough playing time. There is nothing I hate more than when people imply that Europeans are less selfish and smarter than their American counterparts. Name one European player that is smarter than JKidd, CP, LeBron and Kobe?

  • robb

    you can’t generalise, I just think he’s got a great group of guys and coach’s responsible for that. He may not want to take any credit, but look at guys like Leonard and Green and Neal, they are not selfish, they are coachable because it’s part of the culture Pop’s instilled in SA.

  • Ray

    True, but he’s Gregg Popovich and that’s about as much or more elaborating as that man is going to do. I can name co-workers who grew up with out much who are appreciative of what they have now. Again, superstars are 99.99% very coachable, hell in most cases they ARE the coach. You have to remember too, there are only a handful of “superstars” in the league. Maybe 10, but that’s a stretch. Just because someone is popular doesn’t mean they are a “superstar”.

  • Corey

    That’s a great question/statement. I have been thinking about this recently, especially with the amount of revolving door type jobs. There are more great coaches in college than the NBA (which is probably due to the sheer number of colleges). It’s hard to say b/c at least 2 or 3 got fired?!? after this year. Pop is a great coach, but off the top of my head I can’t think of another one who is currently with a team.

  • bike

    I think Doc Rivers is highly respected, but I don’t know if he really falls into the ‘great’ category.

    Phil was great for sure and he wound up leaving due in part to clashing with Kobe.

  • OfftheWall87

    I would say there are only maybe 6 legit superstars. That title gets thrown around too easily.

  • Sancheezie

    hahaha i knew someone was gonna start a race war lol

  • LakeShow

    Really?
    I didn’t ever hear that.
    I thought it was because of Phil’s health…

  • Guest

    yo momma is more coachable

  • KB

    Austin Rivers is a perfect example of an American player that was glorified as a young kid

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    he was talking about the first time he left.

  • LeroyShonuff

    Yep. I wonder if they care to mention all the flame out who thought they was gonna tear the league up and, pouted and then dipped? Carlos Navvaro, Jiri Welsch, Nene who is incredibly lazy and underachiever. Foreign players are just as selfish and if not more demanding since they can always say I can just go home if things don’t go their way.

  • roscoe

    your Bulls?

    come down off your throne you meager fan.

  • roscoe

    you need to pick your game up…

    what are you too lazy to check wikipedia before your “think” comment?

  • roscoe

    go eat a crepe.

  • Redd

    lol

  • hushabomb

    Take a look at the European system. Its a very hard apprenticeship. Practices are 2 per day. Games are once or twice a week. You’re a 16 or older kid and you have the chance to play against men and veterans straight away.

    US and you’re usually playing against your age group or maybe a bit older. Also by that time you are in college as well so study and college life will get in the way.

    Sometimes the kids need to understand that it’s a journey and a lot of hard knocks. What would be nice is to let the young kids play NBDL before a shot at the NBA. Just like farm systems in MLB.

    The benefits are that 1) A player has a chance to grow within a system especially if a NBA team owns it own team. 2) A player can earn a steady income before he hits the big leagues. 3) A player also has the chance to play against harder and more focused competition as all players want to go to NBA.

    By doin this, the player should have the tools to be a professional if the circumstances are right.

  • Spetsnaz

    This piece is more talking about the systems that the kids are brought up in and the end result in players coming into the NBA. Pop has more knowledge i’d say that most anyone in the NBA regarding international vs domestic players.

    Dudes in europe are playing in team first systems through their teens where generally the stars in the US are playing on teams built to make them shine individually. I’d say Ricky Rubio’s basketball IQ is as high as the dudes you mentioned without a doubt

    It is a generalization but there’s a hell of a lot more Anday Blatche and Kwame Brown stories than there are of guys like Rudy Fernandez (who i can’t stand)

  • thecoldhardtruth

    I draw my inspiration from…

  • thecoldhardtruth

    cya

  • Clutch

    A 7’0″ black teenager who grows up swimming rather than playing basketball sounds pretty international to me.

  • Ugh

    I can’t quite work out if this makes you ignorant, racist or if there’s no real difference anyway,

  • ton

    Death is an absolute truth.

  • Musalice41

    I can agree with this I mean look at Dirk Nowizki

  • The Mauve Avenger

    Nothing in LIFE is an absolute truth. Also, death is not an absolute truth. How many times have you died? Was there a heaven? Hell? Were you reincarnated? Did you cease all conscious activity? Did you become one with Brahman? Did your consciousness manifest itself as a force in some other realm of reality? I’d love to know more about your afterlife experience.

  • Clutch

    What’s ignorant is suggesting that the U.S. Virgin Islands shouldn’t fit under the “international” label. They have their own Olympic team, can’t vote for President, and have a culture that more resembles the Bahamas or Jamaica than the states. Duncan’s background points to the spirit of Popovich’s remarks. It’s not racist to think that seven foot black kids in America would want or be encouraged to play basketball rather than swim. It’s GENERALLY part of the culture. Expand your horizons. Btw, I’m black.

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